Each coast's best team meet Wednesday when the Los Angeles Angels roll into Fenway Park to face the Boston Red Sox for the first game of their best-of-five American League Division Series.
Boston won six of the 10 meetings with Los Angeles in the regular season but dropped two of three when they traveled to California. The Angels managed to split a four-game set in Beantown back in mid-August after getting swept on their first trip east in April.
The first pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, with Angels ace John Lackey faces Red Sox’s Cy Young hopeful Josh Beckett in Game 1. Here's a preview on how this series will play out.
BOSTON RED SOX
Why they’ll win: The veteran savvy Red Sox have plenty of big-game experience in both the lineup and the rotation. Boston has remained one of the most balanced teams all season, ranking in the top 10 of most hitting and pitching categories.
Boston Red Sox
|Game 1@ BOS||Josh Beckett|
|Game 2@ BOS||Curt Schilling|
|Game 3@ LAA||D. Matsuzaka|
|Game 4@ LAA||Josh Beckett|
|Game 5@ BOS||Curt Schilling|
The fourth-ranked offense in the major leagues features the bats of David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and now Manny Ramirez, who recently returned from a nagging abdominal injury. Add to these names home-field advantage for the postseason, keeping the BoSox in hitter-friendly Fenway Park for three of the five possible games.
Boston’s playoff rotation features three World Series-winning pitchers in Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Beckett alongside rookie phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka. Backing up the starters is the best and deepest bullpen in baseball. Relievers Jon Lester, Hideki Okajima, Eric Gagne and closer Jonathan Papelbon highlight a group that posted a collective 3.14 ERA this season.
Why they’ll lose: Boston is a big hits, big runs, big innings team. While it can explode for multiple scores it doesn’t have a lot of pop in the order. Outside Ortiz and Ramirez, and occasional power from Lowell and catcher Jason Varitek, the Red Sox don’t have any true deep-ball threats.
They do have Fenway on their side, but if Los Angeles can limit the damage done by the middle of the orde, they should be able to deal with the top and bottom of Boston’s lineup. The BoSox ranked 17th in the majors with 165 total home runs while the Angels limited their opponents to just 150 dingers this season.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Why they’ll win: The Angels can make something out of nothing and score runs at any spot in the order. They have dangerous speed on the bases and finished second in the AL with 139 swipes as of Sunday, thanks to track stars Chone Figgins and Reggie Willits.
Los Angeles Angels
|Game 1@ BOS||John Lackey|
|Game 2@ BOS||Kelvim Escobar|
|Game 3@ LAA||Jered Weaver|
|Game 4@ LAA||John Lackey|
|Game 5@ BOS||Kelvim Escobar|
Knocking in these baserunners are solid bats like Orlando Cabrera, Garrett Anderson and Gary Matthews Jr., who helped L.A. tie for an AL-best .301 batting average with runners on base. Injuries slowed slugger Vladimir Guerrero to just 27 home runs but the right fielder managed to tally 125 RBIs.
The Angels playoff rotation catches a break because Boston decided on the ALDS series schedule which gave the teams a day off on Thursday between Games 1 and 2. This allows the Game 1 starters to pitch twice during this five-game set. Nineteen-game winner Lackey will double up with Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver joining him, and possibly lefty Joe Saunders, in the postseason rotation.
Why they’ll lose: Los Angeles is in a similar situation as Boston. While it ranks amongst the American League’s best offensive teams it lacks power in the middle of the order. Injuries to Matthews and Maicer Izturis as well as a case of pink eye for Anderson could force manager Mike Scioscia to carry more reserve position players rather than beefing up his bullpen.
The lack of relievers could also hurt the Angels' reserve arms, who haven’t pitched well down the home stretch. Middle reliever Scot Shields closed the season with a 7.58 ERA during the last two months of the schedule. Lights-out closer Francisco Rodriguez showed signs of wear earlier this month but has returned to his familiar form in the past week. Los Angeles will depend heavily on its bullpen if the starters struggle against the BoSox like they did in the regular season, posting a 6.04 ERA versus Boston over their 10 meetings.
Prediction: Boston Red Sox in four games